“Do you want to go see the cows?” my grandpa asked me when I was a young child.
Well, of course, I did.
I was halfway out to the barn by the time he finished his sentence.
I especially enjoyed interacting with the calves that licked my hands with their silky smooth tongues. I wanted to bring one home with me. That didn’t happen, unfortunately.
Yes, I washed my hands after being in the barn playing with the calves. My mom made sure of that.
Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, I lived within a mile of a dairy farm. My relatives lived a few more miles beyond that farm.
During the pandemic, you may have seen news coverage of farmers dumping their surplus milk when restaurants and schools were closed.
While cow’s milk is highly nutritious, it also is perishable.
You may be tempted by other beverages at the grocery store. We have lots of choices displayed near cow’s milk in the grocery store, which may include almond, rice, coconut, cashew, soy and hemp milk.
Why do we have so many “milk-like” beverages, anyway?
Some people are allergic to the proteins in milk and must avoid it. Look carefully at the ingredient statements on foods to learn about the potential allergens in any food. Allergens can have very serious consequences for those who have allergies.
Other people follow a vegan diet, and alternative plant-based beverages provide options. Others have issues with the natural sugar (lactose) in milk and experience bloating, gas or other symptoms.
In some cases, those with lactose intolerance can add an enzyme to the milk to break down the sugar. An intolerance is less serious than an allergy. Others with lactose intolerance can try smaller amounts of milk with food.
The highly popular almond milk might appear to have more calcium than cow’s milk; however, cow’s milk provides the most absorbable source of calcium. Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium also is needed for muscle contracting and nerve firing.
Most of the plant-based milk products are highly fortified, meaning that the nutrients were added and were not there in the first place. Check out the ingredient statement for nutrients that have been added.
These “formulated” beverages were developed to imitate cow’s milk, which should be flattering to cows.
A cup of cow’s milk provides about one-fourth of the daily calcium recommendation naturally. As a public health measure, milk is fortified with vitamin D to help your body use the calcium. Vitamin D also has many other health-promoting functions.
Cow’s milk provides ample proteins that support building and maintaining our muscles and the rest of our body. It naturally provides B vitamins such as riboflavin and B 12. Cow’s milk provides minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and zinc. All of these nutrients have “jobs” to do in our body.
Milk is fortified with vitamin A to help promote healthy skin and eyes.
For example, a cup of nonfat cow’s milk has 8.3 grams of protein. Plant-based milk beverages have less protein present naturally.
Soy milk is closest to milk in protein content, with 7 grams protein per cup. Soy milk and soy formula often are recommended for people who cannot drink cow’s milk due to allergies.
Some plant-based milk-type beverages also have added sweeteners. Although the sweet flavor may appeal to children, keep in mind that early exposure may fuel their “sweet tooth” as they grow older.
The health benefits of cow’s milk also stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Researchers reviewed more than 100 published research studies about cow’s milk. They reported that cow’s milk consumption may reduce our risk for diabetes, heart disease, and colon, bladder and breast cancer. Consumption of dairy products may help promote weight loss or maintenance.
If you have an athlete in your home, be aware that chocolate low-fat cow’s milk is considered the ideal exercise-recovery, “refueling” drink for athletes of all ages. It has a ratio of three parts carbohydrate to one part protein.
Based on all of this information, I continue to be a fan of cows and the dairy farmers making my family’s favorite daily beverage possible.
Milk always has a place in my family’s refrigerator on the top shelf, not in the refrigerator door, which is warmer. Remember that excess milk can be frozen followed by thawing in the refrigerator. Shake thawed milk before using.
This recipe is adapted from the American Dairy Association. It provides a healthful snack on the go. To freeze bananas, simply peel and place them in freezer bags or freezer containers.
Chunky Monkey Smoothie
1 medium frozen banana
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt, or substitute vanilla-flavored yogurt
1 cup low-fat chocolate milk
Combine ingredients in a blender and mix well.
Makes two servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 8 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrate and 130 milligrams sodium. It also provides 20% of the daily recommendation for calcium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.)